Why Experience Still Matters

Why Experience Still Matters
Hiking to Liverpool Hut in New Zealand

Without a doubt, Socality Barbie is my absolute favorite thing on the internet this week. In case you live under a rock and missed it, someone created an Instagram account for a Barbie doll mocking all of the hipsters on the app and it’s all kinds of glorious! Glorious people!

Why you might ask? Because someone is finally drawing attention to something that has been bugging me for a year – the fakeness of social media, especially the fakeness on Instagram. What Socality Barbie so cleverly draws attention are people who are using the wildly popular #LiveAuthentic hashtag on Instagram, who are, well, anything but authentic because they all take the exact same photos. It all blurs together into one giant feed of dark green hues and beards.

Overexposed photos of barns. Wooden railroad tracks through the Pacific Northwest mists. Hammocks in ridiculous places. A frame cabins in the woods. And so much plaid and canvas. I can’t take another shot of a tin mug filled with organic French press coffee in the hands of someone wearing a blanket looking out by a campfire ANYMORE. NO MORE.

Why Experience Still Matters
Sunset at a Bedouin Camp in Jordan
Why Experience Still Matters
Phinda, South Africa

I’ve been hinting about writing this for a while but I really didn’t know exactly how to put into words or talk about it in a way without sounding like a judgmental dick; not to mention I am friends with a lot of people who take those exact types of photos. Oops.

It’s a really big gray area when we are talking about what’s real and what’s fake online. I can tell you I’ve probably been guilty of some of these things before so who am I to judge or tell other people they are being fake, right?

Well, I am going to throw caution to the wind and do it anyways. If I see one more pair of legs sticking out of a tent in a place where you didn’t actually camp, I am going to scream.

Why Experience Still Matters
My tent in Mongolia horse trekking for a month
Why Experience Still Matters
Cordoba, Spain where I taught English for a year

Let me be honest, I am not sick of those views, or stereotypes or even that lifestyle; in fact, I secretly like it. What I am sick of seeing things that are totally staged and fake, and let me tell you from firsthand experience, many of those accounts are. Maybe they weren’t when they started out, but boy have times have changed.

I work with those people, I’ve hired those people, hell, I’ve even posed for those people. And to be fair, I’ve been that person once or twice before. Who am I to judge?

Photographers always have composed and staged shots, so what’s changed?

What has been bothering me for months and months and what I just can’t wrap my head around is the simple fact that somehow with the rise of Instagram and social media, experience seems to matter LESS than the photo. The shot has become more important than the story. How the hell did that happen?

Why Experience Still Matters
Giza, Egypt
why experience still matters
Finishing the 4 day Milford Track

In the past, there was a clear line between being a photographer and the rest of the world of non-picture-takers. Nowadays anyone with a phone is a photographer.

And you know what? I love that. I love the accessibility of art now and that anyone can become whatever they dream of being. If you want to be a writer, you don’t need to go to school for it, you can be a writer. Same with photography and video.

We are a generation of content creators, and that’s awesome!

Why Experience Still Matters
Great Barrier Reef
Why Experience Still Matters
Cappadoccia, Turkey

But thanks to Barbie, the negative side has been clearly, bluntly, and sarcastically tossed in our faces this week and raises the question of how much is actually real? Is that truly authentic living or did you just stage everything in your Instagram feed to seem authentic? And are we staging our very lives online for approval nowadays?

Which begs the question – if it didn’t get shared on social media, did it actually happen?

Where is the line between reality and fantasy?

Why Experience Still Matters
Routeburn Track
Why Experience Still Matters
Petra, Jordan

There are plenty of fantastical Instagram accounts out there that I love, but that is what they profess to be – fantasy. I start to get angry when I see Instagrams that PRETEND to show something real, but the reality couldn’t be further from the truth. It’s like we are shaping a world that doesn’t actually exist. Do I even need to point out all the potential problems with that?

Don’t try to be something you’re not.

This is something I’ve been seeing grow a lot this past year in New Zealand especially, and it is freaking me out. And to be honest, sometimes it feels like its my fault. I don’t feel comfortable saying I pioneered Instagramming in New Zealand by any means, but two years ago when I moved here, there weren’t that many people on the ‘gram. I got involved in the community, worked on getting features for people, and really tried to encourage people to share this beautiful part of the world online, especially Wanaka.

But somehow between now and then it’s spiraled into something that makes me cringe and back away slowly.

Why Experience Still Matters
Daintree, Australia
Why Experience Still Matters
Becoming an advanced diver on Koh Tao, Thailand

Now I feel really disconnected with Instagram here, and I’ve found myself saying the same things Socality Barbie is saying here too. And I’ve even become disillusioned with certain places and things around New Zealand because of it that never bothered me before.

Not to mention everyone is copying each other and trying to out do one another; I’ve had a number of projects ripped out from under me here and I learned the hard way to keep my ideas to myself in Wanaka – this taker attitude really bothers me because it kinda goes against everything I love about New Zealand to begin with.

For me New Zealand is the very definition of community and positive living, so seeing it start to shift away from that in photography upsets me more than I could ever possibly express. I hate that I can’t talk about the things I am working on anymore.

How did that happen?

I didn’t realize it until I was on the plane back home to America for a visit that I needed a freaking break. I was sick for the 4th time in 2 months, burnt out and exhausted. I slept for 2 days straight once I got home to Virginia and then realized I needed a little social media detox. And you know what? It’s been awesome. I gave a @TED talk over a year ago about how we’ve become so addicted to mobile technology, so I decided I needed to follow my own advice and disconnect, spend time with my family, and rest. I didn’t even bring my camera with me. And now I feel more creative than ever. Sometimes you gotta put yourself first, listen to your body and remember that the world doesn’t end if you don’t Instagram for a week. Peace #socialmediadetox #homesweethome #nocameranoproblem

A photo posted by Liz Carlson (@youngadventuress) on

For me Instagram is about sharing my view of New Zealand, my perspective, how I see life here, not how someone else sees it.

I am so sick seeing those damn foldable white kayaks in places you aren’t actually kayaking. I’m sick of seeing tents posed all over the country in places where it’s illegal to camp. I’m sick of seeing artful nighttime silhouettes of people gazing up at the Milky Way with a headlamp on. No more colorful hammocks tied over an impractical creek or skateboarding down a deserted road towards a mountain. We’ve seen it all before on Chris Burkhard‘s feed, stop copying him.

Be original. Be creative. Challenge yourself.

Why Experience Still Matters
Treble Cone, New Zealand
Why Experience Still Matters
Logroño, Spain

It doesn’t count if you fly in a helicopter up a mountain and pose with a backpack and puffer jacket for a photo implying you hiked there. Where’s the story behind that? And what about if you pitched a tent just for a photo only to take it down a minute after – did you even camp? Or staging a whole sunset shot in a kakak that you paddled in for approximately 5 minutes?

I get frustrated because I actually climb mountains and I camp all the time and I love kayaking around the lakes in summer. Sometimes I take photos, most of the time I don’t. Come on, nobody kayaks in New Zealand in winter!

It’s all about the photo now, and not the experience itself which drives me nuts, like going on a hike JUST for the photos. And it’s creating a fake image of New Zealand and a fake lifestyle. It’s like photoshopping life, people!

Why Experience Still Matters
Asturias, Spain
Why Experience Still Matters
Sri Lanka

Jeeze, this sounds so negative, doesn’t it? That’s not what I want. What I want to do is to make an argument for the value of experience, especially in travel, and at the end of the day, those amazing moments you share and undergo around the world matter so much more than a photo.

The stories should be what matter. The experiences themselves. Not the evidence.

Every year we become more and more obsessed with our phones, with how we look, about the evidence of our lives, and I think it’s getting to the point where we are forgetting to actually live. This is something I strive to work on all the time and fail spectacularly at. If things go on, what will the world be like in a decade?

I can’t even begin to count the number of times I’ve had to decide between pulling out my camera for a photo and just living in the moment. And I can’t even count the number of times I’ve been on blog trips where I wasn’t even given the opportunity for experience, rather just a quick photo opp. I know which I prefer.

Why Experience Still Matters
Altai, Mongolia
Why Experience Still Matters
Pamplona, Spain

Given a choice, I would still take all the same trips and explore the world even if I didn’t own a camera, if only for the memories and the amazing things you learn when you get to travel.

Life doesn’t revolve around sunrise and sunset, good light and dark skies and new moons. The day isn’t ruined if you didn’t get the shot or if it rains. Life is all a matter of perspective and what you make of it and being inspired. Travel is about the people you meet and the impact they have on you. It’s about overcoming challenges and learning new things, putting yourself in foreign cultures and even making a fool of yourself sometimes. It shouldn’t be about pictures.

Tomorrow Instagram could be gone, remember that. And what will we be left with? Trust me, experience still matters. In fact, it’s probably all that matters.

So I am calling for more stories, more experiences, and less bullshit, more creativity and less copying. I’d rather see a crappy original photo with an amazing tale behind it that the most artfully composed sunrise in the world with flying rainbow unicorns frolicking in a golden reflecting lake below it.

So thanks for the reminder to live, Barbie. #Ironic.

Am I the only one who feels this way? Is there anything you’re sick of seeing online? Are you guilty too of any of this? Be sure to follow me on Instagram as I try to keep it real!

Why Experience Still Matters
Luxor, Egypt
Why Experience Still Matters
Ephesus, Turkey

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180 Comments on “Why Experience Still Matters

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  1. Hi Liz. I’ve only “discovered” this article today, and it seems to me that it is totally up to date! I mean, I have the photography and the story behind it, but how many people care about the story? Only a few will go and see the post written on the site/blog about a certain photography posted on Instagram. And, I may be wrong, but the majority of Instagram users seem to love those beautiful fake images and not the real ones.
    Anyway, I love your blog and your way of writing your posts (I’m not a professional travel bloger but my site is also dedicated to travels and I wish I knew where I did or am doing it the bad way eheheh)
    Keep going the way you do!

  2. Hi Liz,

    I wondered if you have ever had parents of teenagers ask you about your early experiences and thoughts about subjects like maturity and safety when it comes to allowing younger people interested in travelling alone and how their worry-wart parents can feel more comfortable with the idea of letting them “spread their wings”. How old were you when you travelled to foreign lands by yourself? Any insights on do’s and don’ts would be helpful. Sorry if I posted this message in the wrong message chain, just came across your website. Neat stuff!

  3. Oh dear , this do sound negative. You trek hard , you kayak cos you love that . Why do you get upset when people just kayak for 5 mins and post their photos ? That is their way of having fun , just admit it. You keep writing about authenticity and your pics look quite staged many times. What would do about that . Your blogs look like trying hard at times , asking people to follow you tellibg them how honest and candid you are… mmm… thats just a marketing technique .. at first you need to be honest , then focus on getting irritated at people. I really wonder with this attitude how you managed to be a kind of good blogger. Anyways good luck

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